"This 1985 recording is without doubt the best of the available DVD's and would rank at the all time top five if CDs were included as well. Nikolas Harnoncourt has proven time and again that he has the concept of the message bach was conveying and the talent to translate it into a superb performance. In contradistinction to the soothing Matthaeus Passion, the Johannes Passion is aggressive, confrontational and hostile to the 'Jews'. The message is delivered by the choruses employing brisk , contrapunctal rythms. The hauntingly beatiful Alto aria 'Es ist Volbracht' is anticlimactic to the tumultuous chorus pieces. The Tolzer Knabben Chor sings these choruses with verve and passion- one only must look at the boys' facial expressions as they effortlessly master the score. The Passion is dominated by the choruses, by design and intent, Harnoncourt uhderstands it fully and delivers on that count. Kurt Equiluz as the Evangelist is phenomenal and surpasses even Peter Schreier in that tailormade role of his. The other adult male soloists are not far behind in the renditions of their roles utilising the power and crispness of their voices. That much can be said for the two Alto boy soloists. The Soprano boy soloist is the weakest only because he lacks any power behind and projection of his voice but even that does not mar the performance. The Concentus Musicus Wien delivers the peformance we have been accostomed to and expect. The camera work is better than average and the sound, considering the age of the recording is not disappointing. Altogether, this is the performance to own and cherish time and again."
Hypnotic and moving.
Paul J. Walkowski | Boston | 09/25/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a 2007 DVD release of a concert recorded in 1985 at the beautiful Graz Gothic-Baroque Cathedral of Austria. Though not in widescreen, this DVD makes up for its dated nature with smart performance and a score that is easily one of the better Biblical tributes that relies on arias, recitatives and chorale music. Bach's composition is opera-like, oratorio in nature, but unlike so many other Biblical tomes put to music, this one is much easier to listen to and enjoyable, uplifting and spiritual. The story here is not hell, fire and damnation, but suffering, rejection and sacrifice. St. John's Passion, based on the Gospel of St. John, with a few embellishments thrown in for dramatic impact, is an account of the crucifixion and events leading up to it, told through various vocal methods, and expressive instrumentation that focuses on the rhapsodic instead of the abstract to communicate its essential theme and storyline. Harnoncourt directs both a large Wagnerian chorus and boy's choir and elicits from each a rich, full sound that is paced well and cohesive, and gets from his ensemble cast fine performances throughout - although I always find oratorios somewhat static and stiffer than I think they need be, and in that regard this is no different from the rest. Still, this is a recording that many probably own and others may be considering and, as noted in another review, one can't go back and direct or film it differently. So, arguing whatever cinematic changes might have made this DVD better, is pointless. Musically, however, this is a grand effort and a huge success because of Bach's talent and ear for combining the message in a musical oratorio form that is both meaningful and enjoyable from beginning to end. "
Dr. John W. Rippon | Florida | 12/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This brilliant recording though made in 1985 is still vibrant and alive today. This is a tribute to the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He was then and is still today the absolute master of playing works of the Baroque period on period instruments and being musicologically correct for that period and the composer. Many such attempts at "period correct" music playing that I've heard have been stiff, boring and lifeless. Not so with Harnoncourt. His recordings are always exciting and spell binding. This is certainly true of the Johanes Passion. This is the earlier of the two surviving Passions that Bach wrote. He had just been appointed Kantor of the St. Thomas church in Leipzig and was at the height of his choral creative powers. Whereas the later St. Matthew Passion is deeply devotional, contemplative and reassuring, the St. John is raw, aggressive and hugely dramatic; as close to Opera as Bach would ever obtain. From the opening chorus with it's mesmerizing dissonance in "Herr, Herr, unser Herrscher"(an E against an E flat), the rush of the drama seizes you and it carries you till the end of the work. The power of the music is in scene painting and this occurs throughout the entire piece. As example when Peter has denied Christ for the third time he goes to the garden to weep and when the veil of the temple is rent (both additions from the Matthew gospel) to the brutal suffering of Jesus on the cross with the plaintive aria "Ach, mein Sinn" or the painful aria "Erwage wie sein blutgefarbter Rucken" with the desperate cries of the chorus "Wohin?, Wohin?" This is high drama and as theatrical as it gets. The musicians involved are all splendid in their rolls. I can't imagine a better Evangelist than Kurt Equiluz and the Jesus of Robert Moll is a pillar of strength. Though he does not have much music to sing here, the tenor solo Thomas Moser does very well and we'll hear him in many later opera performances. For those interested in musicology, the excellent use of period instruments was very informative and a great pleasure to hear. We have an aria accompanied by a pair of Viols with six strings and a C curve on the body of the instrument rather than the F curve of the Violin family with their four strings. In another aria we have a higly curved, eerie sounding Shawm of the older Oboe family accompanying along with wooden flutes and oboes. They all sounded "just right" in the places where they were used. A truly great experience."
Selected tempo for opening chorus was great
Y. Seo | SF, CA | 01/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Compared to Richter's St John Passion, opening chorus was striking expressive and faster tempo. And actually, it is refreshing and moving. and clear oboe line was great. And I really loved the boy's choir. I am glad to purchase both St. Matthew passion and St. John passion in DVDs. It makes you feel you are in theater. Strongly recommended for all Bach lovers."
DVD Video of Harnoncourt's 1985 recording 0f JSBach's St Joh
Mr. G. F. Harding | Welwyn GC UK | 01/19/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We took delivery of the DVD late morning and sat down imediately to view it on an LCD positioned between two excellent speakers fed from the Hi-Fi amp. Within two mintues we knew we had a gem! This perception was only reinforced section-by-section as we let the performance roll, very unwilling to stop it until the very last bar! Lunchtime came and went un-noticed! It is difficult to know where to start a detailed comment, there is so much to pay colpliment to! Certainly, for one thing, there was the strikingly motivated energy of all the performers, particularly noticeable with the boy choristers and Conductor himself, creating an unforgetable rapport with us, the viewers. For another thing, the sound of the boy's singing is refreshingly different from that of adult women, in no way less musical or less moving. Perhaps the most extraordinary of all was the Contralto aria "It is finished", sung by an un-named boy soloist. The musicality and maturity of his singing-craft were matchless and, what was unexpected for us, the sound of his voice, although quite unlike that of an adult woman (or man), was a completely acceptable part of the musical ambience (once again, refreshingly so). Finally, it can be taken as read that the accuracy and articulation of this huge, complex work was always of the highest artistic order, as was the marvelously appropriate and sensitive overall direction by Humphrey Burton. We feel truly humble in the face of this wonderful version of a well-loved epic choral feast, and feel very lucky to be in possession of it. Copyright 19th January 2010 Geoff and Avril Harding"